An historic three wins in a day at Thruxton today (Sunday) have catapulted Dan Eaves into the lead of the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship. With Eaves’ team-mate Matt Neal, the leader before Thruxton, finishing in the top four in all three races, their Team Halfords squad has extended its lead in the Teams’ title race. Defending champion Vauxhall, meanwhile, leaves the Hampshire circuit just ahead of SEAT in the Manufacturers’ points standings.
There was also plenty of controversy at Thruxton as arch rivals, SEAT’s Jason Plato and Vauxhall’s Yvan Muller, clashed on the track. Indeed, today’s three races produced some truly memorable BTCC action and will make for spectacular viewing when they are shown on ITV1 next Saturday 7 May.
Eaves, in his Honda Integra, overtook Plato to win the first race after early leader Tom Chilton – returning to the BTCC in Arena Motorsports’ Honda Civic – needed a pit stop to change a tyre. Plato finished second, just ahead of Neal, who would go into the day’s second race still leading the standings, but by a reduced margin of just five points over Eaves. Muller, Neal’s closest rival arriving at Thruxton, trailed in a distant sixth so now fell behind Eaves in the points table. Chilton, with a new tyre fitted to his car, rejoined the race in tenth and set the fastest lap.
Eaves’ win meant he started the second race from pole position and from there he romped away to his second win of the day, setting the fastest lap time en route. This was all the more impressive considering his Honda was now carrying maximum success ballast. But it was the action behind that captured the huge crowd’s attention. Plato’s Toledo and Muller’s Astra Sport Hatch collided at high speed under braking for the tight Club chicane. Muller’s car was sent into an enormous slide but the French driver – drawing rapturous applause from the packed grandstands – steered it back into line, still ahead of Plato.
Muller’s and Plato’s fighting allowed Neal to close in and within a couple of laps he had picked off the pair of them with brave moves at the super-fast Goodwood corner and was able to follow home Eaves in a 1-2 finish for their team. Plato, when passed by Neal, lost momentum and by the end of the lap had fallen to an eventual fifth position behind inspired rookie SEAT team-mate James Pickford.
The result meant that heading into the day’s third and final race Neal and Eaves were now sensationally tied on points at the head of the championship. The starting order for the race was decided by the finishing order of the second but with the top ten positions reversed. This meant Eaves would start tenth, Neal ninth, Muller eighth and so on. At the front of the grid, thanks to finishing tenth in race two, would be Vauxhall’s Gavin Smith.
But Irishman Smith’s joy was short-lived. As Smith entered the first corner he and Chilton were eliminated from the race as their cars collided. Turkington was also delayed in the incident and dropped to last with a damaged car – the catalyst for a great comeback drive. At the front, SEAT’s Luke Hines had inherited first position as the BTCC’s Safety Car was sent onto the track to lead the field while marshals cleared Smith’s and Chilton’s stranded cars.
Behind, Plato had passed Muller for second but officials judged he had done so illegally when the Safety Car was on track. Later, Plato was ordered to serve a drive-through pit lane penalty and this he did having passed Hines for the lead after the Safety Car period was over. This cost Plato dear for it dropped him to the tail of the field. But timing it to perfection was Eaves who, as Plato headed into the pit lane, swooped past Hines and Turkington in one move and into the lead. From there he moved clear once again for an amazing third victory – the first driver in BTCC history to win all three races in a day. Eaves and the Team Halfords squad have also extended their lead in the Independents Trophy’s Drivers’ and Teams’ championships.
A delighted Eaves said: “I’m just stunned. Half way through the third race there was no way I thought I would win but suddenly everything started playing into my hands and I took advantage. Three wins and the championship lead … it’s just a dream come true but it’s also the result of a great team and a great car. Based on the racing today, Brands Hatch is going to be something else.”
The fight for second in the third race went all the way to the finish line. Turkington, having spent the race recovering from his first lap delay, somehow came out ahead to claim the place. Team-mate Muller then nosed ahead of Neal in the sprint to the finish line for third. The recovering Plato took a fighting fifth and the race´s fastest lap, while poor Hines, having come to blows with the charging Neal shortly after the Safety Car period, slumped to eighth.